Women leaders share stories of struggle and success #Herstory

 

Ivana Dimitrova was told that she was “too cute to work in a construction company” when she applied for a job at a construction company in Macedonia eight years ago. Her persistence paid off.  Today she is in charge of the largest construction project in Macedonia and oversees a workforce of 700 workers. She is also the President of the local trade union organization with 2,000 members.

At the BWI European Regional Women’s Conference entitled, “Amandla! Power to the women!” which took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the sessions brought together women from different countries to share their stories on the challenges they faced in their unions, workplace, and community.  They also recounted the important role trade unions played in overcoming these challenges.

“When I was a kid I was inspired by the struggle of Nelson Mandela who was introduced to me by my grandmother who I admired tremendously.  When I was fourteen I had the amazing opportunity to meet and hug Nelson Mandela as I was part of the welcome band for Nelson Mandela who visiting the Netherlands.  I will never forget the hug.  It was so warm and precious.  At that moment, I decided to dedicate my life for the fight for justice and better life for all people,: stated Zamaney Menso of the Dutch union, FNV and member fo the BWI World Board.

Menso who started her trade union career when she was nineteen, talked about the constant discrimination she faces.  “As a woman of colour and as a child of immigrants, I knew I was going to face discrimination in my work and daily life. Unfortunately, it still happens, and because of this my goal is to make our society free from all forms of discrimination and racism,” she said. 

Elena Rubtsova from Kyrgyzstan shared #Herstory of being appointed as a shop steward at the building materials company she worked.   “There were no elections, so people were not able to exercise their right to elect their own trade union representative. I was told by the company management that my job was to entertain workers by organizing sport and cultural events. I started to do so, but then I educated myself about trade unions and became more aware about the role trade unions can play to improve workers’ lives.  I started to help workers to with their grievances and their problems, so I was recognized by workers as their representative”. 

Today Elena is working at the national trade union center of the Building Workers Trade Union where responsibilities include negotiating collective bargaining agreements, organizing training programs and coordinating  youth and women activities. 

“I am in the union because I want to help other women who are going through the same situation I experienced,” said Secil Saricoban from Turkey. Secil faced sexual harassment by her supervisor and despite her attempts to get him to stop by complaining to the management and her co-workers, it did not stop.  

 “Turkey is a very conservative society, and even my co-workers, who knew my story, tended to blame me in this situation. They thought I provoked such behavior from my boss”. Secil turned to BWI Turkish affiliate, Tarim Orman-Is to seek assistance for her struggle against her harasser.  With the help of the union, her supervisor was immediately fired.  Secil proved to all workers in her branch, that sexual harassment is unacceptable behavior in the work place.   

These are just a few examples of remarkable stories that participants of the BWI European Women’s Conference shared with each other. These stories empowered women to continue their fight for better future, gender equality and become leaders in their unions, work place, and communities.